The grind of training camp is officially on. Day three in pads ended on a positive note, which I'll get to later, but let's just say Derek Newton got a ton of love from the other 89 players on this team at the end of practice.
Tomorrow is an off-day mandated by the NFL CBA so the team's players will get some much needed rest, even if it is only for 24 hours. So there won't be any observations for Thursday, but I'll use that space to give you my Ultimate 11 Early Camp Team. Enough about tomorrow, what about today? I know, I know, onward we must trudge.
Here are my 24 observations from Wednesday's practice. Although my last observation is like three in one.
1. The Situation for the Day was clearly "going in" plus territory, redzone and goal line. Most team situations were "going in" as coaches say, some drives starting at the plus 30 yard line, some starting at the ten yard line.
2. One of those goal line drills was one I hadn't seen much during my football life. The first day in pads the team went true goal line...ball at three...11 on 11...essentially an Oklahoma drill with purpose. But today the perimeter players worked on goal line passing without the big fellas. So, imagine all 22 guys on the field, now eliminate the beefy ones and scrimmage against one another. That was the drill. Good drill too.
3. During that goal line passing drill, the tight end got a lot of work and caught a number of corner routes against tight coverage. A little secret...having been a defensive player way back in the day...they cheat. They know it's a pass because, well, that's the design of the drill. So if the offense gets one in the end zone, it executed it flawlessly.
4. I didn't get to watch much WR/DB 1-on-1 today but the one rep I saw was WR Mike Thomas shaking one of the team's defensive backs, getting loose down the seam for an easy deep ball completion.
5. During a 2-on-2 OL/DL run blocking drill, I thought Derek Newton looked the most athletic, the most physcial and the most confident that I've seen him. He snapped off the ball with good pad level, delivered a blow and most imporantly moved DE Jared Crick off the ball. Movement off the ball is a point of emphasis with this offensive line. That was an early bright spot and solid way to start practice for Newton.
6. I didn't get to watch a ton of reps in that period, but I still have not seen the OL effectively block DE Tim Jamison in that drill. Of the players that I will focus on during the team's first preseason game, Jamison will be near the top of the list.
7. Confidence is a tricky beast and I can see a few players struggling with it over the past few practices. It's easy to start doubting yourself in an environment like this but that's a natural feeling some players will need to fight through before flying to Arizona.
8. I mentioned Jerrell Powe a few days ago, focusing on the power he possesses. But today I saw a little wiggle, errr, slippery-ness...is that the right word? Can a 330+ pounder be slippery? Either way, I saw re-direction in pass rush 1-on1's that I hadn't seen prior to today.
9. Crick displayed some power earlier in the week, but today during drills with the OL, he looked as quick and disruptive as I can remember. It hasn't been a perfect week for Crick as his DL coach Bill Kollar would attest but saw some good burst and quickness today
10. Jamison has given G Alex Kupper all he can handle in drills and team, but during 1-on-1's I saw him anchor and hold his own a bit more against Jamison and others.
11. I got the chance to interview T Will Yeatman after practice. Man, talk about a specimen and I got a history lesson too. After I was done with the interview, nice as he could be, Will says "just so you know it's pronounced "Y-eight-man". I felt awful and apologized profusely but he was gracious. Then he told me that his ancestors kept the spelling of Yeatman even though the pronounciation changed after the fact. Who knew? I do now. On the field, he intrigues the heck out of me. He's a former tight end that played lacrosse, an attack position no less. Can you imagine THAT guy running at you with a stick in his hands? Forget it. But he fits the big, versatile and mobile athlete model this organization covets.
12. During team, just as I realized that Julius Warmsley hadn't made his daily play of the day, he jumped up to bat down a Tom Savage pass. At least once a day, Warmsley finds a way to do something positive.
13. One thing I wanted to see more than anything else finally happened, for at least one snap - Jadeveon Clowney pass rushing against Duane Brown. The Texans' LT kept the star rookie from the QB, but Clowney popped the big fella. It was one heck of a collision to say the least. As an aside, the team's tight ends and even some tackles are struggling with Clowney's power against the run.
14. During the "red zone/plus territory" 7-on-7 period, Arian Foster ran a route out of the backfield only to have Fitzpatrick sail the throw down the sideline. Two plays later Foster ran the same route on the other side of the field. Fitzpatrick got this one closer but not so close that Foster needed to LAY OUT, full on dive for the football. As I said about Andre Johnson a few days ago, it was definitely a teachable moment for Bill O'Brien and his staff. Think about it, one of the best offensive weapons in the league giving that effort in a July training camp practice? This team's young guys got an hour's worth of lecture in one play from Foster.
15. Speaking of effort, on the first play of the last period of practice, Kareem Jackson jumped a slant route by DeAndre Hopkins, cutting off his path and eventually intercepting the pass. As Kareem took off for the other end zone, he had to wind through a bunch of blue shirts, some that were involved in the plays and some that weren't. Either way, about 90 yards down the field, Brown was hauling tail to make a TD saving tackle. It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, the effort from this team's foundational players is impressive.
16. O'Brien pointed that out in his post practice press conference...and about five instances when his "stars" made his coaching work a little easier with impressive effort players displayed. He noted Dre diving for his catch earlier this week, Arian's attempt today, Duane's sprint to catch Kareem and also J.J. Watt running down a screen pass 60 yards downfield yesterday. You may not get those guys to say much at all but they don't need to with effort like that.
17. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: No. 99 is pretty good. I figure if you disagree with every single one of my observations, we'll 10,000% agree on that one.
18. In the last team period, Mike Vrabel praised ILB Mike Mohamed as he stopped an inside run. I've been a Mohamed fan a while, dating back to his Cal days. His football IQ is impressive and I think he'll find a way to impact this team in 2014.
19. On 4th down during the team's goalline 11-on-11 period, WR Travis Labhart made another big catch that brought some emotion out of the offense as it scored to end that drill. I've mentioned it this week and many times when he was at A&M, Labhart just has a way of making a big catch at a key time.
20. Recently signed Quentin Groves had his best play of camp as he powered through Yeatman during team on the goalline. Known more for his quickness and speed off the line, Groves bull rushed the left tackle and forced a bad throw.
21. WR Alec Lemon made a touchdown catch with Elbert Mack hanging on Lemon; it was probably the best executed play of the day for QB Case Keenum.
22. As the kickers were taking and making their field goal attempts (I'll be honest, I couldn't see who was kicking - it was Randy's day to kick, but I couldn't tell for certain), Fitzpatrick circled up the team's WR as he was sharing some of his thoughts for the day. Well, I'm assuming that it was a swell conversation, but I've got a feeling Fitz was the only one talking. In all honesty, though, it was a good sign to see Fitz voice his opinion and take charge to attempt to get everyone on the same page. It could've just been a Kumbaya moment, but I think there was a bit more to it than that, especially after Jackson's interception at the goal line.
23. The play of the day though was Newton catching a punt at the end of practice that, well, let's just say that the veterans were quite happy that Newton held on.
24. My last observation for the day was one that wouldn't have happened had I not gone back out to the field to record Texans Huddle for Fox Southwest with Patti Smith and Marc Vandermeer. After interviewing and talking with Yeatman (remember Y8MAN - think about it like that), I walked inside NRG Stadium to hear O'Brien's press conference. After that was complete, I walked back to the practice field to film with Patty and Marc. That was probably 30 minutes after the completion of practice and I see DeAndre Hopkins just finishing up signing for fans and DeVier Posey signing each and every piece of paper stuck in his face. Posey is consistently the last guy off the field.
So, I record with Patti and Marc then they kick me out, back to the Texans Radio studio inside NRG. As I'm walking back over, I see fans still huddled around someone that appears to be signing autographs. It was team founder/chairman/CEO Bob McNair. I'm sure there are good owners in all sports but I can't recall ever seeing a professional sports team owner spending 15-20-30 minutes signing autographs, shaking hands and interacting with fans. AT A PRACTICE, mind you.
There's a term in business called "tone at the top", meaning that an organization or business of any kind follows the tone set by its leader/owner. There's plenty of bad in the world of sports but when you see the tone set by McNair, it's clear why this organization is respected the way it is.